This weekend gave me the opportunity of seeing Stray Cat Theatre's new production of the black comedy ‘Gloria,’ now playing at Tempe Centre for the Arts until October 14, which gives you one weekend left to see it for yourself.
Local reviews, including local regional editor and reviewer, Herb Paine of Broadway Wold, gave the production generally positive critiques. Even though no one asked me – and in no official capacity as a reviewer this time around – here’s my thumbnail take.
If you’ve read anything regarding Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s ‘Gloria,’ either local reviews, national reviews, or even marketing hype, you’ve probably seen words such as ‘thought-provoking’ or maybe ‘darkly hilarious’ used repeatedly to describe it. How much your thought is provoked after seeing director Delores E. Mendoza’s accomplished production will depend on you. The play has a clarity of themes and ideas that drive the play along at a clipped pace, but what you draw from it will largely depend on your personal outlook and maybe some possible previous ambitious experiences or beliefs of your own. How you respond to the themes of the play may be different from the person sitting next to you.
As for being darkly hilarious? Not quite. Darkly humorous, yes, and that’s the level the play should remain in order to work as effectively as the playwright should want it to. The humor has the kind of bite you might often hear in any office workplace where the competition among the office workers is constant and the gossip is toxic, but the laughs in the script are not loud ones. An event occurs that closes the first act, and its a shocker. To give anything away would be criminal, but the point is, had the playwright intentionally written too many snappy ‘hilarious’ liners leading up to the event, audiences would have gagged on the laugh instead of exhibiting the open-mouthed, silent shock, which is how you should be responding.
The six-person cast all deliver the right tone and appropriate attitudes that these office workers require, but one stands out. The way the first act is constructed, we learn a lot of the title character before we meet her. She’s an outsider, that much we know, plus she’s referred to as an office freak by one co-worker, and an emotional terrorist by another. She’s also timid – a wallflower – who, frankly, no one in the office particularly cares for. They certainly wouldn’t socialize with her. So when she makes her entrance, immediately silencing the conversation in the room, we already feel that we know her. Watching Megan Holcomb stand there, humiliated, speechless, and notably stressed to breaking point, you buy Megan’s portrayal in an instant. She embodies the role so well. In fact, it comes to the point where the performer disappears into character so effectively that in the end, what you’re watching suddenly becomes a real Gloria made manifest. It’s possible that in just under a year from now, when the valley engages in its theatre awards season, Megan’s name may well be in the running.
Perhaps the real theme of the play comes in a single line spoken at the end of act two. In the age of reality shows and temporary celebrities who rarely deserve the attention, a nightmare of a situation can often become a profitable experience, if you have the right connections. The line of dialog that closes the second act comes in the form of a question. And it’s mercenary. However, to quote it would be a disservice to audiences almost as much as revealing the shocking close of act one. You need to see it and discuss it among yourselves. And you have until October 14 to do so.